New year, new rig.

Yup, you got it folks. I had the lucky chance to start the new year in Aion with a spiffylicious new gaming computer. As a disclaimer, it is very possible to play and enjoy Aion on lower-end machines; I know, because I have friends who play on laptops (although most do not participate in sieges) and I myself enjoyed the game using my less-than-stellar rig with the graphics set to just one notch below max.

However, in order to participate in large-scale PvP and sieges, I was forced to lower all settings to rock-bottom and use shift+F12 to remove all enemy and ally rendering (remember folks, when you do this always have enemy names turned on!). Even with these measures, I would often still have difficulty moving -- not the best situation for an assassin who depends on quick strikes and even quicker evasions. I could still sorta do my job (scouting was best) and enjoy the fights, although I would often find myself dead before I even knew I was being hit. I have experienced Atreia this way for the past year, but there just comes a time in a Daeva's life when you want to participate more fully in sieges -- to see the battles as well as fight.

After saving, I came to the conclusion last fall that I was able to go ahead and put together a new gaming rig (and yes folks, a girl can build her own machine!). While not top-of-the-line, it was a still a decent upgrade and would provide a new gaming experience. In true gamer's style, I sat down New Year's Eve and assembled my new toy.

So, what difference does the new rig make while playing? Jump past the cut to see what I have pulsing in my case and just how much of a difference it has made.


That was then

My old machine was built a-way-back-when for the release of Vanguard. The video card has been replaced since then (it blew while playing Age of Conan) and the hard drives added to, but the core of the machine has stayed the same. My 2010 gaming machine specs are as follows:
  • Intel Core 2 duo processor CPU 6600@2.40GHz (2)
  • Intel Desktop Board DG965WH - motherboard - ATX - iG965 - LGA775 Socket motherboard
  • 2 GB RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GT (1024.0 MB)
  • 575 GB hard drives (a 500 GB and a 75 GB)
  • Ultra tower
Certainly not the most impressive of components, but not too shabby either. I ran Windows XP and used a 19 inch Acer monitor. As I said, I enjoyed the game with this set-up, but I wanted more!

This is now

Time for another disclaimer: As mentioned before, I was not setting out to build the ultimate gaming rig. Unlike some folks, much of my income is funneled into real-life things -- you know, food, housing, kids, and the like. So while getting a machine that ran well (and let me go clip some enemy wings in the Abyss) was the goal, it also had to stay within a decent budget.

The bones and brains of my current machine are as follows:
  • Intel Core i7-950 3.06GHz L2 Cache 8MB LGA 1366 130W quad-core processor
  • ASRock X58 Extreme 3 LGA 1366 Intel X58 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel motherboard
  • Three G.SKILL PI Series 2GB DDR3 memory (6GB total RAM)
  • Two EVGA GeForce GTX 460 1GB 256-bit SLI video cards
  • Two Samsung 1 TB Spinpoint 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA hard drives
  • LITE-ON Black SATA 2MB Cache CD/DVD burner
  • CORSAIR SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC power supply
  • COOLER MASTER HAF 932 Black Steel ATX Full Tower computer case
  • Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus Universal Direct Contact Heat-Pipe 120mm Fan CPU cooler
Since I was not able to cannibalize the old machine (I will be passing it along to my munchkins for a gaming machine), I had to also get a new monitor and OS. I went with Windows 7 Professional 64-bit and a new 20-inch HP monitor. My total build came to under $1,750. Granted, to set up the oldest machine for my son to do programming work, I will be including a new keyboard in the near future, but thanks to a slightly pack-ratty nature, I already have mice aplenty.

Most of my parts came from NewEgg with a couple of loose ends from Amazon. The monitor was grabbed during Black Friday at Staples. Due to the holidays, I ended up with a great deal on shipping (next to nothing really!). My biggest gripe was that the Amazon order didn't ship when the original hard drives I was ordering were no longer available; I had to go back in and reorder different ones. Another setback was that when I received my shipment from NewEgg, one of the video cards was packed underneath both the CPU and power supply, resulting in a very crushed box. However, their returns process was swift and easy (and didn't cost me a dime), and the part was replaced within two days.

How does it compare?

The first test came once I loaded everything in and clicked play. The game loaded up without incident, but then the graphics really caught my eye. The fabric and metals had much more texture, glint, and detail. I played just a notch under max before, but now I was running around with every setting full-out maxed. I admit, as an explorer, eye-candy can be a big deal; when you wander around to see what beautiful and interesting new sights there are to behold, having them actually look gorgeous is a big plus.

Speaking of eye-candy -- the next thing I noticed was how much more quickly my game returned after the pause when I took a screenshot. What used to hold me up a a few moments (occasionally resulting in sudden and severe drops in hit points) is now just a blip. Thank the Seraphim lords! Now I can crawl into those perfect-shot moments with a greater chance of getting out alive!

My next test was to get into Dredge. See, lately I had been clicking enter but not actually appearing in the dredgion for so long that my comrades think I missed the queue. So, in the interest of science only (it has nothing to do with enjoying or getting AP), I queue with my friends for a Chantra Dredgion run. I click enter and WHOOSH!! I am inside and looking around in a matter of just a couple seconds. Very nice!

The biggest test

Loading into the dredgion is all well and good, but the real test would be in the Abyss, where a a sea of wings and textures galore would need to render. Waiting for the next big siege cycle was difficult and it was disappointing when the cycle was a bust participant-wise. It actually took half of the week before I was able to delve into a mass of winged combatants and really see how the machine would perform.

Much to my delight, I participated in the entire siege with my settings remaining at max and without resorting to shift+F12 -- and I experienced no lag. Everything ran smoothly; I could even dodge in and out of combat with relative ease, maintaining my time alive vs. dead at a very favorable ratio. It really did boost my enjoyment of this aspect of the game when I could see the beauty of the world as well as fight without the lag handicap. Although admittedly, in the future I will go back to using shift+F12 -- during many points of the battle literally all I could see was a screen full of beautifully detailed wings!

In all, the tests were a roaring success. The machine lived-up to expectations very well and even exceeded my hopes. I will certainly be enjoying more time in PvP as well as simply basking in the beauty of Aion. For anyone able to eek out the luxury of a better machine, I would certainly recommend it. Besides, gaming gives us plenty of frustrations without our adding to it with things we have the ability to fix.

So what are you running with and how is it working for you? Share your specs or your dream configuration in the comments.

Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down weekly to bring you Wings Over Atreia. Featuring tips, guides, and general snippets of life in Aion, the column is better than Tutty-on-a-stick, ackackackackackack! Have a suggestion to share? No need to bribe a Shugo -- just send mail to mj@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.